Amid a raging pandemic, Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan, on April 29 claimed that there was no shortage of medical oxygen in the country.
"Oxygen was available in adequate quantity earlier also and now it is being made available from many sources by mobilizing it from industry and abroad and by making available storage tankers and cryogenic tankers," Dr. Vardhan had told ANI news agency.
He has not been the only one to make such statements. Chief ministers or health ministers from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Jammu & Kashmir have too spoken positively on oxygen availability.
While UP CM Yogi Adityanath's April 24 claim was already found to be misleading, for the rest of them FactChecker referred to data submitted before the Delhi High Court and spoke to doctors and volunteer groups in these states to verify.
The Delhi government told HC that most other states have been allocated almost as much as, or even more medical oxygen than Delhi. This is the document they submitted showing status of oxygen allocation and demand in 17 states.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on April 28, 2021 said there was no shortage of medical oxygen in the state, although transporting them to hospitals is a problem.
Khattar added that Haryana is allocated 162 MT per day from various sources within and outside the state. Out of which 80 MT from Air Liquide, Panipat, 7 MT from Jindal Steel Ltd, Hisar and 20 MT from Inox Brotiwala, 25 MT medical oxygen from Air Liquide, Roorkee, 20 MT from Inox Bhiwadi and 10 MT from MSME ASU is allocated to Haryana.
This is when there are reports of deaths in several hospitals in Haryana due to unavailability of oxygen. Also, Haryana Human Rights Council has served a notice to the Director General, Health Services and civil and police administration of Hisar, Rewari and Gurugram districts and have questioned the authorities on the alarming rise of death rate due to shortage of oxygen.
Raj Abhishek Singh, a member of Kisan Satyagraha, a Gandhian student collective working on consolidating and facilitating resources on COVID-19 seconded HHRC and said Rewari is one of the worst affected districts in Haryana.
"There is a huge shortage of oxygen cylinders in Haryana plus the options for refilling is limited. Most of the cylinders have been sent to Delhi since the situation over there is worse. Oxygen concentrators too have mostly been diverted to Delhi due to higher demand. People of Haryana are going to nearby places like Meerut in western Uttar Pradesh to refill their cylinders. The question of hoarding doesn't even arise since cylinders are not available," said Singh.
According to the document the Delhi government submitted in Delhi HC, Haryana needs 180 million tonnes (MT) of oxygen and has been allotted 162 MT.
After a tussle over stopping oxygen supply to Delhi, Khattar assured the PM to supply the allocated quota to Delhi while complaining that Haryana had not received oxygen it was promised from Rajasthan.
Panipat plant has a capacity of producing 260 MT of oxygen per day, out of which 140 MT is supplied to Delhi, 80 MT is supplied to Haryana and about 20 MT to Punjab.
Quiet contrary to Telangana Health Minister Eatala Rajender's April 27 claim of no oxygen shortage, Dr. Balmuri Venkat, a doctor and Telangana State President of National Students Union of India, said, "There are hospitals that can supply only 10 litres of oxygen to a patient due to shortage despite the patient needing 30 litres."
This is when Rajender had accepted that the state was gasping for oxygen earlier in April. While ruling out lock down, much earlier in the month of April 2021 accepted that the state was grappling with some serious oxygen shortage and that his government is working towards ramping up supplies.
Officials had earlier said Telangana has an internal production capacity of 120 MT with a recent permission to draw an additional 70 MT of oxygen from Bellary Steel Plant. However, on April 29, Rajender slammed the Centre for not allocating 360 MT of oxygen as against their demand of 600 MT which could be an indicator of possible internal shortages.
"Major hospitals like Apollo and Yashoda hospital in the state have oxygen shortage. Cases of one cylinder being allotted to two patients turn by turn has also been seen in Telangana," Venkat added.
Rajender has also claimed that the state has over 400 MT of oxygen when the current demand is just for 270 MT. But, reportedly, oxygen supply in private hospitals is largely scarce.
Hospital beds with oxygen facility have been exhausted and the situation in private hospitals is grim in terms of oxygen supply, said a doctor of Gandhi Hospital, Hyderabad.
Minister of Industry, Andhra Pradesh, Goutham Reddy claimed that there is no shortage of oxygen in the state. "AP manufactures 510 MT of medical oxygen through 40 different industries; the target is to produce 300 MT of oxygen per day," Reddy was quoted as saying by Hans India.
After extensive interaction with volunteers working on different COVID-19 relief programmes and doctors in Andhra Pradesh, Factchecker found that the state is faring well as compared to its neighbour Telangana in terms of oxygen supply.
"So far the supply of oxygen has been stable in government hospitals and most number fatalities have been noticed in cases of late admission to the hospitals," said Dr. Rahul Roy, a final-year MBBS student working in Government General Hospital, Vijayawada.
Andhra Pradesh has been able to ensure a steady supply of oxygen so far since there are three producers of medical oxygen in the state — Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited or Vizag steel plant provides 100 MT, Ellen Berries in Visakhapatnam provides 40 MT and Liquinox, Srikakulam gives 60 MT. This amounts to a daily supply of 200 MT through domestic produce.
While it is currently possible to draw 197 MT per day from RINL due to increased demand in the state, 97 MT has been allocated to Maharashtra. Naveen Kandimalla, a volunteer working with the Student Federation of India's Covid helpline team, said, "Andhra Pradesh is also importing oxygen from Odisha and Chhattisgarh."
"In Guntur government hospitals have adequate supply of oxygen but private hospitals have acute crunch," said Dr. Jayadhir Babu, a critical care specialist, Guntur General Hospital. "We are advising COVID-19 patients, depending on availability, to buy oxygen concentrators if they can afford, so that the burden on needy patients is lesser."
Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant also claimed that the state is witnessing no shortage of medical oxygen. "We have as much oxygen as is required. Two oxygen plants are being set up under PM Cares Fund," Sawant told ANI.
Amidst the rising number of COVID-19 cases, Goa has banned export of oxygen cylinders and decided to diverge it towards Goa Medical College and hospitals to meet domestic needs.
Varad Mardolkar, President, Goa Youth Congress, said, "Recently the stock of oxygen cylinders in Goa Medical College got over and we had to buy cylinders from local industries."
Sources have told Factchecker that the shortage has been in certain rural pockets of North and South Goa with higher population density. In a press conference, Dr. Shivanand Bandekar, Dean, Goa Medical College, which is the biggest government hospital in the state, said currently 1 crore litres of oxygen are being consumed in GMC per day and the need might rise up to 3 crore litres.
Out of 393 patients admitted in GMC, 332 are dependent on medical oxygen.
"Considering Goa has a smaller population owing to its size, yet the number of cases has been increasing every day. This is straining the medical infrastructure," Akhilesh Yadav, National Secretary, India Youth Congress and in-charge of Goa.
Jammu & Kashmir
In a recent press conference advisor to the Lieutenant Governor, Jammu & Kashmir, Baseer Ahmed Khan claimed that there is no shortage of medical oxygen in the Union Territory. Khan also said that J&K was the best managed place in the country when it came to combating COVID-19.
"At this point of time there has been no shortage of oxygen in the state but certainly the number of beds that can support the severely affected patients are getting over. There are oxygen generation plants in hospitals and some amount is also imported from other states, said Dr. Mir Mushtaq of district hospital, Pulwama.
The production capacity of oxygen in Jammu & Kashmir stands at 14,290 CuM (cubic metres) with M/s RSS Gases, Bari Brahmana providing 2310 cubic meters (CuM) per day, M/s Valley Minerals & Chemicals, Bari Brahmana providing 1750 CuM per day, M/s Kashmir Gases Bari Brahmana producing 2597 CuM per day. Production capacity of M/s Allied Gases Bari Brahmana is 840 CuM per day. M/s R.S. Cryogenic Bari Brahmana had a capacity of 2800 CuM, M/s Global Gas, Udhampur had a production capacity of 1540 CuM per day, M/s Kay Kay Gases, Kathua had a production capacity of 2450 CuM per day, as of April 23, 2021.
The J&K government has also banned supply of oxygen for industrial purposes. Altaf Hussain Bhat, a member of Athrout, a Srinagar-based non-profit, facilitating COVID relief programme, told Factchecker, "We have not faced the situation of oxygen shortage in the state the way Delhi does yet. Various NGOs and industries have been supporting the patients and hospitals by providing oxygen supply with their funds due to which the state is still steady and stable."